I was giving a talk to a group of international students recently when the topic of what to wear at an interview came up. We spent quite a bit of time talking about it because nowadays it is not always clear how to dress. The default dress code has traditionally been a business suit but even that may not be appropriate in today’s diverse workplace.
There are many contradictions in British dress. Children are still sent to school in, sometimes eccentric, uniforms and there is still a good trade in clothing for City gentlemen. And yet many people work in jeans and t-shirts, casual jackets and converse trainers. Ironically, women may find the maze of clothing etiquette easier to navigate than male candidates.So I have asked colleagues and professionals for their thoughts.
You can never go wrong wearing a smart black suit?
“I applied for a creative job for a well know publishing company in central London. I was unsure of what to wear to this interview and discussed this with my sister who also worked in the creative industry. She said that “you can never go wrong wearing a smart black suit”! The interview went well but it wasn’t until the very last moment that I was aware the interviewer was looking at my clothes from top to bottom. I realised that the clothes I had chosen to wear didn’t match the role or culture of the organisation.”
Better overdress than under-dress?
“I worked in finance with a large multinational IT company. The training HR gave managers when recruiting emphasised the need for them to ‘fit’ the corporate image. If you wore a suit to interview, it could go against you because the image was smart-casual.”
So no suits then?
“I never trust “dress casual” – I think they are testing you to see if you have the nous to dress Business Casual. And what exactly is Business Casual anyway?”
You can see how I ended up talking with the students about this. It is not easy for UK nationals to navigate their way, and that much harder when you come from countries with different work cultures. One student had been invited to interview at an investment bank with the instruction to “dress casual”. For men this sort of “casual” is typically a suit with open-neck shirt and no tie.
We are told of the need to appear to “fit in”. That is, when you go to an interview you should look as though you already belong to that organisation. But where do you draw the line? Many IT professionals wear shorts, jeans and t-shirts but would that be acceptable for an interviewee?
“I used to work in a ‘trendy’ publishing outfit where flip-flops and shorts were encouraged but would have been horrified if anyone had turned up to interview dressed like that.”
So what is acceptable?
The idea that a business suit should be the default interview attire is probably correct for certain professions and industries. But part of demonstrating your interest in working in a particular sector, let alone company and role, is through your clothing and willingness to adapt your style to them.
Always dress to impress. But that impression needs to be tailored to the industry. There may be a culture of wearing jeans and open-neck shirts but certain branded clothes may have a higher status in those environments. Women should think about avoiding bright colours and patterns which can be distracting to the interviewer!
“I got a job at one new media agency through the chunky ART orange trainers I was wearing. My credibility at the NY office was down to my Vans. Never underestimate the power of well-chosen branded footwear.”
“Quite a lot of places I go to are in the Arts crowd – the male uniform is clean good condition jeans, very expensive shoes, smart jacket and either a plain black or white t shirt or open necked shirt.”
So the advice is to do your homework. Ask people working in the industry what they would consider appropriate. Perhaps take the company’s culture to another level – if they wear jeans and t-shirts, top notch jeans, blouse or shirt and an informal jacket may demonstrate your seriousness about the position. For other organisations with a smart-casual dress code, think about chinos and neutral shirts for men and tailored tops or blouses with smart trousers and skirts for women.
“Girls should never ever wear uncomfortable shoes – finding interview rooms always involves a lot of walking, often across car parks/unfamiliar city centres/around confusing buildings, and limping is not a good look.”
Blog courtesy of International Futures
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